Armenia and Azerbaijan have been involved in an armed conflict for four days now. The cause of the dispute is Nagorno-Karabakh, one of the hotbeds of ethnic conflict that the region has inherited as a Soviet legacy.
Nagorno-Karabakh is predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians, although Soviet authorities gave control of the territory to Azerbaijan. Relations between ethnic Azerbaijanis and Armenians soured in the 1980s when the parliament of the autonomous region decided to join Armenia. The move was followed by bilateral ethnic violence, a referendum by the Armenian population, and an economic blockade by Azerbaijan.
After the Soviet Union collapsed and the two countries gained independence, they began openly attacking each other. The skirmishes, which claimed numerous lives on both sides, lasted until 1994. This year, with Russia acting as a mediator, a ceasefire agreement was signed.
However, the sides have not yet reached a peace agreement, and a ceasefire is often conditional - we saw the last "explosion" on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border in 2016 as a "four-day war."
The situation on the border grew tense in July 2020, and on September 28, both Armenia and Azerbaijan declared a state of war. ‘’Why now?’’—I addressed Davit Batashvili, a specialist in international relations, with this question.
"It seems that one of the parties considered that this step could gain them political or diplomatic benefits.", David told me, "But why now and not a few months ago or later, we do not know for sure."
Indeed, both sides are pointing at each other, and the international community seems to be in no rush to weigh in. So far, the calls that have been made have mainly been for the immediate easing of the situation and a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Whether this is feasible is not yet clear. The fact remains that we have witnessed another war in the region, claiming the lives of Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers and civilians. Officials from each side cite different numbers, however, according to media reports, 95 people have died as of September 28.
Turkey, which sees Azerbaijan as a brotherly nation of the same origin, has promised to help Aliyev's government. Since September 27, President Erdogan has been actively posting on Twitter, calling Armenia "the biggest threat" to the region's security, accusing the international community of "double standards", and reminding Ilham Aliyev of his father's words about Azerbaijan and Turkey being "one nation in two states."
Russia, which supports Armenia, has made more restrained statements. Putin called Nikol Fashinyan and advised that "the most important thing is to stop military operations." Russia has been helping Armenia for a long time and has a lot of influence over it, however, Putin does not want to spoil relations with Aliyev either.
Georgia is expressing neutrality - President Salome Zurabishvili has made a call for peace. Davit Batashvili confirms that this is the only right position for our country and should be maintained under any government.
However, it appears on social media that, in addition to the traditional war, an information war has broken out and Georgia is involved in it: Armenian media outlets have been spreading information that Georgia is allowing transit of weapons travelling to Azerbaijan while blocking the road for Armenia (who has made the same request). Davit Batiashvili tells me that in the case of neutrality, different attitudes towards parties are allowed, however, the specific facts have not been officially confirmed yet.
Which side has more legitimacy? As Davit Batashvili explained to me, the historical basis of the conflict is complex and multifaceted, however, international law is on Azerbaijan’s side and any map or globe confirms this.
We were interested to hear both sides. However, the Azeri respondents did not (and could not) make themselves available for comment. An Armenian lawyer, Artem Hakobyan, told me that the military operation is aimed not only at Nagorno-Karabakh, but at Armenia as a whole:
"You understand that, right now, as we speak, the city of Vardenis and neighboring villages - that is, Armenian territory - are under attack? We are not talking about Karabakh anymore, we are dealing with something bigger. "
Artem stressed multiple times that Armenia is defending itself and that peace under Aliyev's totalitarian rule is simply impossible.
I am assuming the Azeri respondent would have turned Artem's comment upside down, but one thing is clear - the parties are not going to make concessions, As all the neighbors seem involved in this geopolitical controversy, firther dispute will not to bring anything good to the region as a whole.